Vice-presidential candidates are usually selected on the basis of how they can best balance the ticket for their respective candidates: deliver votes in a particular state, offset weaknesses in the resumes of their running mates, bring strong campaigning skills to the contest or appeal to certain voters, such as soccer moms or environmental advocates. Absent a serious blunder, they rarely affect the outcome. Sarah Palin may well prove to be the exception to the rule.


Harris R. Sherline

A relative unknown, she is going up against a longtime Democratic insider, Joe Biden, who has nearly 36 years of experience as a U.S. senator. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he is considered an expert in foreign policy.

However, selecting a consummate Washington insider as his vice-presidential standard bearer also substantially blunts Barack Obama‘s message of “Change,” which has stressed bringing change to Washington from outside the Beltway.

Here are some highlights of Biden’s background:

» He is an attorney, with an impressive record in the Senate, currently as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, as a member of the Judiciary Committee and as a member of the Caucus on International Narcotics Control.

» He and his wife, Jill, have been married for 31 years.

» The Bidens have one daughter and two sons, and are members of the Catholic church.

» His elder son, Beau Biden III, a partner in a Wilmington, Del., law firm, was elected state attorney general in 2006. He is a captain in the Delaware National Guard and expects to be deployed to Iraq shortly.

» Biden’s youngest son, Hunter, works as an attorney and a lobbyist in Washington and currently serves on the board of directors of Amtrak.

Biden has a history of saying inappropriate and sometimes outrageous things. As a first-year law school student, he was accused of plagiarism, and his 1988 bid for the presidency was essentially killed when he was caught plagiarizing a speech, almost word for word, given by British politician Neil Kinnock.

In 1987, John Harwood wrote, “But it was just last month that Biden appropriated an inspirational speech by British Labor leader Neil Kinnock. Kinnock told of ancestors who played football after long days underground in the mines, who recited poetry and paved the way for him to become the first in his family to attend college … So he (Biden) used it — changing the names but little else … But instead of crediting Kinnock, he told the audience he thought of it on the way to the debate.”

This led to a more detailed review of Biden’s record, which exposed additional instances of potential plagiarism and puffing of his resume. As a result, he was forced to withdraw from the presidential race.

Another insight into Biden’s character was noted in a recent American Daughter article by Allan Ericson, which details an e-mail by CPA Bruce Riddle that describes how Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign failed to meet some of its obligations after he dropped out of the race. Click here for specifics.

Biden also has been guilty of numerous gaffes, which are typified by the comment, “In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”

At 44, Palin has a notable track record, and her conservative values are making her the darling of the Republican base.

Starting as a hockey mom and an active PTA member, The Wall Street Journal notes, “She entered politics at 28, winning a seat on the Wasilla City Council as an opponent of tax increases. Four years later, after defeating Wasilla’s three-term incumbent mayor, she swept” her predecessor’s “cronies out of the bureaucracy.”

In 2003, Palin was appointed to Alaska’s Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, from which she subsequently resigned in order to expose legal violations and conflicts of interest by certain of the state’s Republican leaders, including the party chairman, for doing party work on public time and giving a sensitive e-mail to a lobbyist.

In 2004, she joined a Democratic ethics complaint against the state’s Republican attorney general over an international trade deal, forcing him to resign.

In 2006, Palin took on a corrupt Republican establishment to become governor of Alaska, receiving 51 percent of the vote in the primaries to the then sitting governor’s 19 percent.

As governor, Palin is noted for the following actions:

» She pursued “a pipeline to deliver natural gas from the North Slope of Alaska to market in the Lower 48. The Alaska Legislature approved her plan to give a $500 million subsidy … to help build the project,” which she believes will help “end our dependence on foreign oil.”

» Her budget policies and liberal use of her “veto pen” resulted in reducing the cost of government in Alaska, even when the state enjoyed increased revenues as a result of higher oil prices. She also sold the governor’s airplane saying, “It’s a waste of tax dollars.”

» Instead of using the savings for other programs or pet projects, she returned money to residents of the state and put the balance in a “rainy day” fund.

» She is a staunch supporter of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Palin’s approval rating has been as high as 95 percent and is currently about 65 percent.

For Biden, the problem most likely will be controlling his mouth. He has a reputation for exaggeration, sometimes outright fabrication and he often appears to be arrogant and condescending.

Time magazine’s “secret analyst” noted, “Biden may be a ridiculous, overbearing blowhard, and he’ll doubtless make foolish blunders and imprudent comments if he’s on the ticket, but he’d still be an excellent campaigner, surrogate and debater.”

As for Biden’s highly touted foreign policy expertise, columnist Thomas Sowell recently noted that his experience does not involve any hands-on responsibilities, that he has never actually “made” foreign policy. For a more thorough commentary about Biden’s foreign policy experience, click here to read Sowell’s column.

Although Palin lacks foreign policy background, she does have important bona fides in energy matters, and she has more executive experience than Sens. Obama and Biden combined, which includes hands-on national security involvement as commander-in-chief of Alaska’s National Guard. It’s also worth noting that governors who have run for president in the past generally also had no background in foreign relations. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush come to mind.

Palin’s challenge will be to convince voters that she is sufficiently qualified for the job of vice president. The logic of Obama’s supporters escapes me, claiming that she is not qualified to be “a heartbeat away from the presidency” while ignoring the fact that Obama, who is running to become that “heartbeat,” is clearly less qualified than she is.

Both vice-presidential candidates have their work cut out for them, but for obvious reasons, “Sarah Barracuda” is my choice.

Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his own blog,